For those of us who love reading fiction of any kind, there is really nothing like the pleasure of literary anticipation, the knowledge that one of our favourite writers is about to publish another book. This is even more true when the new title is an addition to an existing series. I feel that way about a number of writers, and snap up their next titles as soon as they’re released. I have a whole shelf full of Bernard Cornwell’s Uhtred novels in hardback as mute witness to my addiction, and I think we’re probably all waiting for the third and final part of a certain Tudor trilogy.
Over the last few years a prominent name on my list of favourites has been Toby Clements. In fact I had already heard a buzz about his first book – Kingmaker: Winter Pilgrims – before it was even published, so I was eagerly waiting for it to appear. The previews promised a great deal, but I wasn’t disappointed. The novel turned out to be a gripping tale that pitched two great characters – Thomas and Katherine Everingham – into the maelstrom of the Wars of the Roses. The plot was grounded in a deep knowledge of the fifteenth century, from the broad sweep of politics and religion to the minutiae of daily life. The battle scenes were particularly detailed, and therefore harrowing. This wasn’t cartoon violence at all, but rather a clear-eyed portrayal of what such battles must have been like for the ordinary men who fought them.
Two more books followed, Kingmaker: Broken Faith and Kingmaker: Divided Souls. Both kept up the high standard of the first. We followed Thomas and Katherine as they were forced to deal with all the twists and turns of plot and counter-plot in the struggle for the crown between the houses of Lancaster and York. We grew to know them along with a vast gallery of characters – Kings Henry VI and Edward IV, Warwick, ‘Kingmaker’ of the title, minor nobles such as kindly Sir John Fakenham and the wily Lord Hastings, and Edmund Riven, the evil, mutilated villain who pursues our heroes with murderous intent. But there were also many ordinary people in the stories, fully rounded characters we came to know and love. Toby Clements has said that one of his aims in writing the books was to place ordinary people in the foreground, and show how they were affected by the nobles’ game of thrones.
I have a feeling that most of you know all this, and were – just like me – keenly anticipating the fourth book about Thomas and Katherine, Kingmaker: Kingdom Come. Of course the problem with this sort of fandom is the unspoken fear that this one might be a disappointment after the riches that came before. Fear not, friends – Toby Clements certainly hasn’t let us down. The opening of Kingdom Come shows us Thomas and Katherine at peace after the struggles of the previous book, enjoying what seems like a safe and happy life together with their small son. King Edward appears to be secure on his throne, and on friendly terms with Warwick. But it soon becomes clear that a major conspiracy is about to plunge everyone – including Thomas and Katherine – into a bloodbath of even more epic proportions.
It’s a gripping, satisfying conclusion to the story that began in the first book, and the four books together represent a major achievement in historical fiction. For me, the only problem is that I won’t have the pleasure of anticipating a new Kingmaker title. I have therefore been toying with the idea of getting up a petition to persuade Toby Clements to keep going. Surely he must be tempted to keep following Thomas and their Katherine on their journey through the fifteenth century. And hang on a minute, whose shadow is that falling over the future? Could it be another son of York? I relish the idea of Toby Clements writing about Richard III. But whatever he decides to write after this, I will most definitely be looking out for his next book.
Tony Bradman reviews children’s books for The Guardian and is chair of The Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS) as well as The Siobhan Dowd Trust. His latest book, Revolt Against the Romans, is out now.